Artist Otherwise Known As… Cornelius Chandler ’17

Chandler spits a verse in the heat of the moment, fans watching. Photo courtesy of Cornelius Chandler.
Chandler spits a verse in the heat of the moment, fans watching. Photo courtesy of Cornelius Chandler.

My proposal to write about Cornelius Chandler ’17 was admittedly self-interested. For the past three years, Chandler’s music has been playing on my phone, mingling with the likes of Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Outkast. So, to sit with Chandler in his Lehman common room and listen to his music and story was a personal treat. It was also the first time I had set foot in Lehman, a building that I had forgotten existed. Who knew? During the time that we spent together, Chandler and I talked about a lot. Topics ranged from the importance of being genuine to where he’s headed after school. Chandler mentioned a few times that he was “shooting for the stars,” and I’d say that he’s well on his way into outer space. After completing a semester at Mystic in the spring of 2015, Chandler has been back on campus, and just recently released a new mixtape, titled Love Letters to Teena. At the very start of the interview, the Atlanta native made clear his intentions: “This is going in The Record, right? I’m definitely going give it to you raw…”

At the heart of Chandler’s music is a total commitment to honesty and remaining genuine. While I was doing research for this article and playing some of his tracks, I actually stumbled upon a piece in the music blog, Pigeons and Planes, that featured Chandler. For context, Pigeons and Planes was acquired by Complex Magazine in 2011. Complex Magazine is perhaps the number-one source for hip-hop and street-style fashion news for hypebeasts. When we first sat down, I couldn’t help but mention the article. He then admitted that he’s hoping for articles like that one to continue: “Not because I want to be famous, but because I have shit to say and I think a lot of people think it. I don’t think of myself as all that special… I just have a big mouth and I like to connect with people.”

I couldn’t resist pushing back against Chandler’s insistence that he’s not special, reminding him that few rappers, if any, talk about marine biology at the end of their songs: “Yeah… I guess you can be familiar and unique at the same time. That’s just what it means to be an entertainer.”

When asked about being one of the few rappers at the college, Chandler again “g[ave] it to [me] raw”: “I think Williams is a superficial place. It both-ers me a lot. It makes a lot of issues for the rest of us. I can’t deal with bullshit because I have issues, like real mental issues, that are exacerbated by superficial concerns. I’m from a church family, and, to me, my music is a responsibility.”

A lot of what Chandler had to say did, admittedly, resonate with me. I could understand how certain aspects of the college culture would affect his music. In elaborating on this, Chandler got to the heart of why he makes music today. And that reason is, in my opinion, indeed pretty special:

“Would you know how smart we are? Not on some exceptional shit, but just the emotional connections we don’t make. It’s ridiculous. I think people are too afraid to be themselves here. It’s easier for me. Growing up, I just couldn’t fit in. Literally I couldn’t because I was fat, or black, or poor – visibly you can’t flex or pretend something you’re not. After a couple decades of that, you just can’t do it. If I tried to fit into Williams, do you know how fucking ridiculous I’d look? If you really want to know what I want to do with my music, then it’s to make a space for people who feel not good where they are. I feel like all I’m here to do is – and I don’t want to sound cheesy – but to be positive. I’ve lived through so much negativity, and I wouldn’t want to contribute more to that in any way because of the things I’ve seen.”

With an outlook like this, I was dying to know which musicians Chandler looked to as influences: “I think the greatest hip-hop artist of all time (debatably) is Kendrick Lamar. Not necessarily my favorite, but I think he’s the greatest. untitled unmastered changed my life. That was the moment when I realized the importance of faith and being genuine. Whether you’re Christian, or Muslim, or whatever, faith in the things you can’t see or explain, whether it’s emotions or how people influence each other in weird intangible ways – I think Kendrick has reached the heights he’s been able to reach because of his humility and because he’s in tune with aspects of humanity that you can’t reach out and touch. That’s faith.”

I knew I had to ask Chandler the one question that all tour guides dread: What’s the one thing you would change about the college? Unlike first-year tour guide me, who floundered when asked this question, Chandler was locked and loaded: “I wish it were more genuine. I wish more people stopped to understand each other and to help each other out just ‘cause. Not for any other reason. I wish it were easier on your spirit. I think at times, Williams can take more than it gives to your existence as a person with emotions and feelings. We’re just so limited – not even trying to sound like an artsy fuck – but if you think about the joy of living, we’re not able to experience those small things because we’re grinding for a Wall Street job. I would make Williams a place you could stop and smell the roses.”

With Wall Street seemingly ruled out of Chandler’s professional life, I was intrigued as to what he had in store after graduation. And while Chandler didn’t mention any one specific profession, he had every intention of continuing his personal journey toward the stars: “When I graduate, I want to work towards building a base as an artist, and build a following. Not around Cornelius Chandler, but around what my life and what our lives represent. I want to be genuine and be skilled enough to build that family of people who care about each other, and the only thing they have in common is they like to get down to the music I make. But it’s really not about me,I just want to make wiggle room for people to breathe more.”

Comments (2)

  1. The title is tacky a f

  2. Let my son cook

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